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Posts Tagged ‘Dominika Cibulkova’

PostHeaderIcon Serena Williams’ Tough Road to Number 6 at SW19: My Wimbledon Women’s Preview

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

Serena Williams and Patrick Mouratoglou (Billie Weiss/AELTC)

As I wrote in my piece on Serena Williams’ Centre Court snub, few players can so effectively use perceived wrongdoings to their advantage as Serena. She generally plays her best tennis when she feels she’s got something to prove. However, this year’s Wimbledon draw is a pretty tough ‘ask’. Can Patrick help her get through it for a sixth Wimbledon crown? We’ll find out soon enough. Here are my thoughts on this year’s draw, and why I see no clear favorites for the title.

(* – Expected R16 matches)

Top Half, Top Quarter

Serena Williams [1] – Eugenie Bouchard [13] *

Wildcards: Cornet (Williams), Petkovic (Bouchard)

Angelique Kerber [9] – Maria Sharapova [5] *

Wildcards: Flipkens (Kerber), Pavlyuchenkova or Riske or Giorgi (Sharapova)

The expected quarterfinal match with Maria isn’t the tough part for Serena. That comes earlier when she has to get by Alize Cornet, the woman who sent her packing in Dubai. After that comes with a potential R16 match against the winner of French Open semifinalists: Genie Bouchard or Andrea Petkovic. Either will be a tough opponent at a stage in the tournament when a No. 1 seed might least expect it.

The bottom section presents its’ own challenges for Kerber and Sharapova. Kerber, finalist at Eastbourne, could be derailed by Kirsten Flipkens, last year’s semifinalist. And Sharapova has a particularly tricky trio to overcome with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Allison Riske, or Camilla Giorgi.

Each woman is capable of an early upset, and Maria will need to bring her “A” game right away. The same holds true of Serena. She’s got to be “bring it”, no matter what court she’s scheduled to play. Can they both do it? I think so, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t end up seeing a Bouchard-Giorgi quarterfinal either.

(UPDATE: I’ll update this quarter with the caveat that IF Serena successfully makes it to the quarters, she’s got a good chance of going all the way.)

Top Half, Bottom Quarter

Simona Halep [3] – Carla Suarez Navarro [15] *

Wildcards: Vinci (Suarez Navarro)

Ana Ivanovic [11] – Jelena Jankovic [7] *

Wildcards: Lisicki (Ivanovic), Townsend or Keys or Shvedova (Jankovic)

The top section of this quarter is likely to end with the expected R16 match between Halep and Suarez Navarro. Roberta Vinci could pose a slight threat to CSN, but I think the Spaniard has too much game to be derailed.

The bottom section of this quarter has much more potential for drama, especially after Madison Keys’ win in Eastbourne for her first WTA title, and first on grass. Add Taylor Townsend and heavy-hitter Yaroslava Shvedova to the mix and Jelena Jankovic is going to have a tough time making it to R16, let alone the quarters.

After vanquishing Jankovic, Keys could do the same to Ivanovic. From there, I don’t think I’d be going too far out on a limb in predicting a Halep-Keys quarterfinal.

Bottom Half, Top Quarter

Victoria Azarenka [8] – Dominika Cibulkova [10] *

Wildcards: Vandeweghe or Muguruza (Azarenka), Safarova (Cibulkova)

Sara Errani [14] – Agnieszka Radwanska [4] *

Wildcards: Garcia or Pironkova or Makarova (Errani), Kuznetsova (Radwanska)

It’s good to have Vika back in the mix, but she’s going to have virtually no impact at this Wimbledon. So look for the top section of this quarter to be about as wide open as you can get with Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Lucie Safarova, and TopShelf champion Coco Vandeweghe all vying for the top quarterfinal spot.

On the bottom, look for Tsvetana Pironkova or Ekaterina Makarova to knock Errani out of contention. And depending on which Svetlana shows up in London, Kuznetsova has a chance at knocking out Radwanska given her current level of play. Grass isn’t her best surface, but you never know.

In figuring out the quarterfinalists, the top section is a crapshoot. Vika is a non-starter. Vandeweghe’s win at TopShelf doesn’t take away from her past inconsistencies.  Muguruza’s past Wimbledon results don’t bode well. And Cibulkova and Safarova are 50-50 crapshoots. For lack of any other compelling evidence, I’ll (half-heartedly) go with Cibulkova-Radwanska.

Bottom Half, Bottom Quarter

Petra Kvitova [6] – Flavia Pennetta [12] *

Wildcards: V. Williams (Kvitova), Stephens (Pennetta)

Caroline Wozniacki [16] – Na Li [2] *

Wildcards: Stosur (Wozniacki)

I’d love to see Venus Williams have a good run at Wimbledon, but there are too many dependencies for her to go deep. R16, however is doable if the weather isn’t too hot and she can minimize her court time. From there, maybe a quarterfinal match-up against Sloane Stephens. I’d give Petra more of a chance if she weren’t so inconsistent: a sad statement in reference to a former Wimbledon champion.

The bottom section will likely play out as expected with Caroline Wozniacki facing off against Li Na in the other R16 match. To be honest, I don’t expect a ton of great tennis, or even clean tennis. I do, however, expect them both to get the job done. They’ve never played each other on grass, but Li holds a 4-2 H2H lead. So the nod goes to her for the quarters.

I’m wary of more Sloane disappointment, but will go ahead and give her the nod in the top section for a Stephens-Li quarterfinal.

Quarterfinal Picks

Williams – Sharapova, Halep – Keys, Cibulkova – Radwanska, Stephens – Li

Notable First-Round Matches

A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) [26] v Alison Riske (USA)

Klara Koukalova (CZE) [31] v Taylor Townsend (USA)

Madison Keys (USA) v Monica Puig (PUR)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) [27]

PostHeaderIcon The 2014 Sony Open Women’s Semifinals Preview (VIDEO)

youtube-thThere are some great women’s semifinal matches in store today at the Sony Open. First up is Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova in a rematch of last year’s final. The late semifinal features an Australian Open rematch between Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova. From where I stand (or sit), we’re likely looking at a Williams-Cibulkova final. Watch the vid to find out why. 🙂

PostHeaderIcon Wide Open for the Women, and the Big Three +1: My Indian Wells Quarter Picks

indianwells-preview

WTA

A Serena Williams-free BNP Paribas Open means a much more realistic chance at one of the year’s biggest titles for the other top women. Conservatively, I’d say that 6 out of the top 8 seeds have a realistic chance to win, along with a couple of other Top 20 outliers! If the chips fall the right way, it’s anyone’s title to win. Let’s take a look through the quarters to see which women have the best chances to make it through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Top Quarter

Li Na – Petra Kvitova

In spite of her Doha hiccup, Li Na has a great chance to take this quarter and go on to the final. She’s finally found a coach that she can hear, and a path that she can navigate to manage her emotions against her expectations. Besides Petra, there aren’t a lot of other women in this quarter, save Dominika Cibulkova and Ekaterina Makarova, who have a reasonable chance to beat her.

As for Petra, one never knows what to expect from her these days. Sometimes her fitness is good, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes she plays like a Top 10’er, other times not so much. That lack of consistency is why Li Na will move through to the semifinals.

Top Half/Bottom Quarter

Maria Sharapova – Angelique Kerber

With torch-bearing/commentary duties in Sochi, Maria’s had a whirlwind winter. Unfortunately, it’s led to a distinct lack of matches for a player who needs a lot of match play in order to reach her best form. A R16 loss in Australia and semifinal loss in Paris don’t bode well for her confidence. A healthy Flavia Pennetta could spell trouble: healthy being the operative word. There’s been no word on her recurring wrist issues, but you never know.

Angelique has a chance to make it from the bottom part of this quarter, but will likely be knocked out by a resurgent Ana Ivanovic, who leads their H2H 4-2. (Please note that I’m weary of referring to Ana as resurgent.) All things considered (Maria’s lack of matches, Flavia’s wrist, Angie’s losing record against her), Ana probably has the best chance to take this quarter.

Bottom Half/Top Quarter

Simona Halep – Victoria Azarenka

There are a couple of question marks in this quarter. The first is the status of Vika’s leg. She’s said that she still feels pain in it, but will attempt to play. But even if she does, I can’t imagine that she’ll have the sharpness necessary to make it out of this quarter.

The other is how will Simona react to the expectations of her new status? A first round loss in Brisbane was followed by a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne. But that was followed by another first-round loss, which was then followed by a title…and then another first-round loss. If the pattern holds true, she’s got as good a chance as anyone of reaching the semifinals. Then again, so does Genie Bouchard.

With Vika on the mend, look for the Simona/Genie winner to reach the semifinals. My gut tells me to go with the plucky Canadian, so I’ll go with Genie.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Jelena Jankovic – Aga Radwanska

Jelena and Aga, the two highest seeds in this quarter, look to be the odds-on favorites to reach the quarters. Kaia Kanepi, Carla Suarez Navarro, Alize Cornet, and Elena Vesnina are all solid, but definitely not true contenders without Doha-like misfires from Jelena and Aga.

Since Aga leads their H2H 4-1, look for Aga to reach her second Indian Wells semifinal.

Quarter Picks: Li Na, Ana Ivanovic, Genie Bouchard, and Aga Radwanska

ATP

No disrespect meant to Andy Murray, but the Big Four is now temporarily back to being the Big Three (Nadal, Djokovic, Federer). Back surgery at the end of 2013 pushed back Andy’s preseason fitness timeline, rendering him less than optimal for this spring season. But he’s not the only one with performance issues coming into this tournament. Rafa got a title win in Rio. Roger got a title win in Dubai. Novak, however, has nothing to show for 2014.

When you add a guy like Grigor Dimitrov to the equation, you have some interesting title prospects in the desert. Let’s take a look at the men’s draw and see which guys have the most likely paths to the semifinals.

Top Half/ Top Quarter

Rafa Nadal – Andy Murray

There’s no way that Andy can get past Rafa at this point in the season. But Rafa’s place in the quarters isn’t assured either. He’s got a tough top section of this quarter with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini. He should make it by all three, but anything can happen in a best of three set tournament.

In the bottom section, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz have the best chance to make it through if Andy wobbles, which is possible given that his confidence isn’t at its highest. But he can take heart from some gutsy play to reach the semifinals in Acapulco before losing to eventual champion, Grigor Dimitrov. Moreover, Andy has better ‘tennis smarts’ than both and much better defense.

Look for him to reach the quarters before losing to Rafa.

Top Half/ Bottom Quarter

Stan Wawrinka – Roger Federer

Look for this quarterfinal to be a battle for Swiss bragging rights between the newly-crowned Australian Open champ and the Greatest of All Time.

Before that, however, Stan needs to get through a likely opening match against Ivo Karlovic. Even with 2 titles under his belt in 2014, Stan hasn’t played a tournament since his Aussie Open win. An upset isn’t likely, but it’s still a tricky match against an opponent who’s more than capable.

Roger, on the other hand, has probably the best path to the quarters of any top guy. Kei Nishikori is his only real challenger, and that’s not going to be much of a challenge for a guy who just notched some huge wins en route to a title in Dubai. Look for Roger to make it through to another meeting with Rafa in the semifinals.

Bottom Half/ Top Quarter

Richard Gasquet – Tomas Berdych

This is one heckuva tough quarter! At a glance, there are 5 guys with a legitimate shot at making it to the semifinals. In addition to Richard and Tomas, you can add Philipp Kohlschreiber, Grigor Dimitrov, and Ernests Gulbis. In terms of the draw, Richard and Philipp will battle for one quarterfinal spot while the Grigor/Ernests winner will battle Tomas for the other quarterfinal spot.

Richard lost to Philipp in Rotterdam, and has had an unspectacular year so far. So Phil looks good to get through on his side of the quarter. On the other, Grigor is on a roll now that the pieces of his game have finally come together. He should get by Ernests in a tough encounter. Tomas is at a higher level than Ernests, but will still be susceptible to Grigor’s newfound confidence, and superior defense.

In a battle between Grigor and Philipp, sign me up for the Bulgarian Express.

Bottom Half/ Bottom Quarter

Juan Martin Del Potro – Novak Djokovic

Honestly, I don’t know why Juan Martin is playing here after retiring due to wrist pain in Dubai. Defending points at the expense of further injury isn’t necessary or smart. Look for Gilles Simon to step up and make a run for the quarters in his absence (when he retires again). Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in this section as well, but he’s become as unpredictable as Petra Kvitova these days.

In the bottom section, Novak could receive a test from Marin Cilic, but that’s about it. He might be struggling in the latter stages of tournaments against Nadal and Federer, but he’s still a class above everyone else. And that includes all the guys in his quarter.

Quarter picks: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Grigor Dimitrov, and Novak Djokovic

PostHeaderIcon Deserving Champions & Disappointing Finals: My Ten Final Thoughts on the Australian Open

Li Na and Stan Wawrinka (Tennis Australia)

Li Na and Stan Wawrinka
(Tennis Australia)

The first Grand Slam of the season is over. Left in its wake are two very deserving champions who, unfortunately, played two very forgettable finals. There’s a lot to take away from this Slam. Though I wish I could say that most of it was positive, that would be wishful thinking. From heat-scorched courts to fallen favorites and wildly -uneven finals, here are my “Ten Final Thoughts” from this year’s Australian Open. Ladies first…

1. Li Na finally received her due with a first-ever Australian Open title after three attempts. She defeated Dominika Cibulkova 7-6 6-0 in a match that will hopefully be remembered more for decisive (and dominating) play in the second set rather than her nervy play in escaping the first set. Coaching warnings/fines notwithstanding, she and Carlos Rodriguez have worked hard on her mental game in order to get her through the seven matches needed to win a Slam title.

They were mostly successful, but you must admit that Lady Luck smiled on her more than once in this tournament. Conversely, she also shot a nasty side eye to Dominika (missed opportunities to close out the first set in the final) and Lucie Safarova, Li Na’s opponent in the round of 32. Lucie’s side eye came in the form of a slightly long backhand on match point against Na that missed the baseline by 5 centimeters. The rest, of course, is now AO history.

2. We always knew that Dominika Cibulkova had the game to trouble the top players but were never sure she could play at the red-line level needed over the long haul of an important tournament. That question has now been answered! She credits part of her improved performance to changes that she and her team have made with her game (new racquet) and fitness regimen to help reduce/prevent injuries. But the heart is all her!

She virtually destroyed Simona Halep and Aga Radwanska in the quarters and semis (6 games lost) after her three-set victory over Maria Sharapova, and lost only 9 games in 3 matches before it. One can only imagine how well 2014 will be for Dominika if these changes truly represent a “game change”.

3. Canadian Genie Bouchard proved showed that she’s no flash-in-the-pan teen newcomer. The 19 year-old solidified her status as one of the tour’s pre-eminent young guns with an amazing run to the semifinals, and quality wins over Casey Dellacqua and Ana Ivanovic. She might be young, but she carries herself like a tour veteran in her approach and the work needed to reach the top of the game. Kudos must also be given to her coach, Nick Saviano, who’s guided her since she was 12, and appears to be a positive and stabilizing force in her game and outlook. After all, her results over the past two years speak for themselves.

Though Milos Raonic has long been touted as Canada’s best chance for Slam success, it’s Genie who tasted Junior Slam success (2012 Wimbledon girls’ title) and has gone deeper in a main Slam draw. She ended 2013 ranked 32, and was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year. She’s ranked 19, and her future looks extremely bright. Now, if only we could do something about her frat boy “army”.

4. Aside from Li Na, the favorites in the women’s draw mostly fell by the wayside with shocking losses. Serena Williams was dumped by the same resurgent Ana Ivanovic who beat her sister Venus for the Brisbane title. Maria Sharapova, a player known for her fighting spirit, was out-battled by Dominika, a player who spots her nearly a foot in height and probably just as much in wingspan. Vika Azarenka, with Redfoo watching pensively from the stands, was ousted by a jaw-dropping performance from Aga Radwanska; complete with a third-set bagel. Aga was then dumped by Cibulkova the next day due to bad scheduling and tired legs.

Serena will be okay after this loss (see below). Vika, however, I’m not so sure about (see below). Maria did better with new coach Sven Groeneveld than Jimmy Connors, but this was still a disappointing tournament. Her chances at winning another Slam don’t look to be any better now than back before her Connors experiment. And poor Aga just can’t seem to catch a break at the Slams. This was her best chance to make a Slam final since 2012 Wimbledon. Bad luck in scheduling is admittedly part of the issue. But let’s be honest: her finesse game will always get stressed when she has to create magic in multiple matches. It’s simply just too tough in the high pressure atmosphere of a Slam.

5. The top two women in the WTA left Australia with very different outlooks on the upcoming season. Serena Williams, “blocked back” in tow, should be relatively fine with her loss…or as fine as she ever is with a loss. If Serena is less than her best and Ana plays to her potential, a loss is not out of the question. So now that the winning streak is over and the pressure for #18 is off (for the moment), she can plot her next steps en route to tennis immortality, presumably starting with an appearance at Indian Wells.

Vika Azarenka, on the other hand, lost a match to a player she should have beaten easily on her favorite surface. Even if you give her the benefit of the doubt given Aga’s inspired play, Vika looked out of sorts and not in the best physical condition for a three-peat. The question she needs to ask herself is whether she wants to be a very good player OR a great player. I’m hoping for the latter because Serena needs someone to test her own greatness, and Vika is the only one that can…besides Serena herself, that is.

6. On the men’s side, Stan Wawrinka played some of the bravest tennis of his career to win a well-deserved first Slam title. His quarterfinal win over the defending champion, Novak Djokovic, was a standout performance. That was followed by tight four-set win over Tomas Berdych in the semifinals that highlighted his improved mental strength in tiebreaks.

Perhaps then it was the build-up after those two matches that compounded the disappointment I felt in his sub-par final against Rafa Nadal. Stan came out playing superbly calm and resolute tennis in his first Slam final. Rafa came out tight (and injured), and there you have it! What followed afterward was incredibly ugly tennis by Stan against an increasingly-hampered foe.

However as with Li Na, I will again express hope that Stan is remembered for his pre-Rafa MTO tennis rather than the nervy stuff that came after it. Oh yeah, congratulations to the new Swiss #1!

7. Rafa Nadal again leaves Melbourne with disappointment AND a bonus injury as his reward for attempting to reach Slam #14. For some reason, the Australian Open has always been a challenge for Rafa. I’m not sure if it’s the time of year, the surface, or something in the Aussie air. Regardless of the reason, this continues to be his most challenging Slam, and the only one that he’s been unable to win more than once.

The bigger worry for Rafa, at least with regards to the 2014 season, is the fact that this injury could signal the type of less-than-stellar year that traditionally follows seasons like his triumphant 2013 season, or Novak’s 2011 season. For all of the fight and physical prowess we’ve come to expect from Rafa, there’s still an unsettling propensity for physical breakdown. But I’ll give it a couple of months before I become concerned about the French Open.

(Note to tennis pundits: please refrain from all talk of Rafa reaching or surpassing Roger’s total of 17 Slams until he gets to 16! Also, I don’t want to say that Pete Sampras’ presence at the final was a mitigating bad luck factor, but a Rafa win would have tied him for 14 Slams with Pete. Just a thought.)

8. Novak Djokovic’s loss to Stan Wawrinka wasn’t what one would call a “bad loss” in the classical sense. All players have at least one other player who, for one reason or another, plays them tough. Stan is one of those players for Novak, head-to-head record be damned. So Novak can leave this year’s Open with his head held high, and start preparing to do battle with Rafa and Andy for the American hard court swing first, then the European clay swing en route to the French Open: the one title he desires most that’s still missing from his future Hall of Fame CV.

9. Roger Federer came into this year’s Australian summer season feeling physically healthy and good about his game with a new larger racquet. Moreover, the combination of these things had left him more confident than he’d been in a very long time. Unfortunately, all of that confidence fell by the wayside with losses to Lleyton Hewitt in Brisbane, Rafa in the Aussie Open semifinals. The loss to Hewitt can easily be brushed aside. The loss to Rafa, however, cannot be so easily dismissed.

Much was made about the hiring of Stefan Edberg to beef up his serve-and-volley game: presumably, to help (re)gain a weapon that would allow him to pressure the top guys who were becoming increasingly more difficult to beat from the back court. This was a resounding failure against Rafa in the semifinals, because he lost confidence and panicked after early struggles. Then, as Rafa started to impose the familiar pattern of lefty forehand to Roger’s single-handed backhand, the confidence left the other parts of his game. He began to shank his forehand, his backhand became brittle, and his reliable serve was unable to save him from any further indignities!

It’s never easy to watch Roger lose a match. This one, however, felt like the true “beginning of the end” for this great player.

10. American men and women continued their struggles at the Slams. Out of the 24 notable participants in singles, none made it to the quarterfinal round. The top men were Donald Young and Sam Querrey, who both made it to the round of 32 before being ousted by Kei Nishikori and Fabio Fognini, respectively. On the women’s side, Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens were the last American women standing in the round of 16 before losing to Ana Ivanovic and Vika Azarenka.

Rather than keep beating the drum over the death of American tennis (in a post-Serena era), I think the better way of looking at this situation is through the lens of “the new normal”. The US will probably continue to have solid players, and also a fair amount of depth. But in all likelihood, we may be long past the point of being able to produce consistent Top 10 prospects.

PostHeaderIcon Na and Aga: My AO Women’s Semifinal Notes and Picks

ao-womens-semis

Li Na and Aga Radwanska
(Tennis Australia)

(original semifinal pick *)

Li Na* v Genie Bouchard

H2H: Li Na leads 1-0

Li Na’s been playing with house money ever since her near defeat at the hands of Lucie Safarova. And having been given a second chance, she’s playing like a woman possessed, and ready to avenge the outcome of last year’s unfortunate final against Vika Azarenka.

She’s worked quite a bit with Carlos Rodriguez to add a dimension of topspin to her game for a greater margin of error on her shots, which she’s used to good effect. Her game hasn’t gone off the rails quite as badly as in past years, and it’s allowed her to keep a more positive mindset on court.

Moreover, she’s played incredible tennis over her last couple of matches (2 and 0 over Makarova, 2 and 2 over Pennetta), and is peaking as needed for another shot at the title. That is, of course, after she gets by her semifinal opponent, Genie Bouchard.

I originally picked Genie to reach the quarterfinals, but was wrong in not following that with a pick to reach the semifinals. I mistakenly thought that Ana Ivanovic, a former Aussie Open finalist and French Open champion, would have the big match experience to win out over the 19-year-old Canadian. Boy oh boy, was I wrong.

Ana’s nerves got the better of her…and her serve. On the other side of the net, Genie was the one who looked and played like the one with more experience. She kept a positive focus on what she needed to do, and didn’t allow her mid-match wobbles to derail her.

I expect the same type of composure from Genie in this match, but unfortunately also expect a different outcome. Li Na has a very different temperament from Ana, and won’t be prone to the same yips. She’s also a better mover and stronger off both sides. It will be harder for Genie to successfully attack her, while also defending her own weaknesses.

Genie and her army have had a great run, but it ends here.

Aga Radwanska v Dominika Cibulkova

H2H: Radwanska leads 5-1

It would be easy to look at the head-to-head record between these two players and think that Aga Radwanska is the clear favorite in this semifinal. This is especially true if you were to look at the double bagel she handed Dominika in the 2013 Sydney tournament final.

However, the tables were turned six months later at Stanford. I watched Dominika play full-on aggressive tennis for three full sets, and came out with the victory “on her terms”. So regardless of her subsequent loss to Aga later in Tokyo, Dominika has shown that this match can easily turn complicated (for Aga) if she successfully executes her game.

But given what we witnessed from Aga in her victory over Azarenka, including a third-set bagel, Dominika will need to be flawless in both strategy and execution. Aga’s performance against Vika was the stuff from which legends are made. No matter what shot Vika played, Aga was there, and ready, with the answer.

Many referred to it as “Ninja Tennis”. Personally, I think it was so other-worldly that she should make an appearance on American Horror Story: Coven! Either way you look at it, Dominika, whose game is a mini-me version of Vika’s game, will need to be perfect in keeping the ball away from Aga’s racquet. And even if she is perfect, I get the feeling that Aga would still somehow prevail.

Hopefully it will be a great match for both, but this will be Aga’s moment to shine.

Women’s semifinal picks: Li Na and Aga Radwanska

PostHeaderIcon An Australian Open Ten Speed for Quarterfinal Monday

Rafa Nadal (Ben Solomon)

Rafa Nadal (Ben Solomon)

Ten quick thoughts knocked out in about an hour, and in no particular order…

  1. I tweeted about this the other day but it bears mentioning again. There used to be a time when the top players would lose, and you wouldn’t hear a peep out of them in terms of “the injury excuse”. Suddenly, it’s all the rage. I won’t name names, but I will say that, in my opinion, it cheapens the game when this happens as well as the accomplishments of your opponent. As the Aussie saying goes: If you’re fit, you play. If you play, you’re fit. If you lose and you weren’t fit to play, you shouldn’t have played…so shut it.
  2. Tough to swallow: Kei played one of the best matches he’s ever played against a struggling Rafa, and still couldn’t win a set from the Spaniard!
  3. The hype machine surrounding Milos Raonic might finally start to go silent after yet another missed opportunity at a first Slam quarterfinal. A big serve is meaningless in today’s game if you can’t back it up with sustained groundstrokes and effective defense. His fitness and footwork both need some work as well. I’m not trying to be mean about it, but merely saying that someone is a “future Slam winner” is meaningless if the work doesn’t happen to shore up a player’s weaknesses.

    TENNIS-AUS-OPEN

    Sloane Stephens (PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)

  4. To a lesser degree, I also think the hype around Sloane isn’t helping her to develop either. The “fire” just doesn’t seem to be there in her play. Then again, why should there be if she’s getting endorsements and interviews from all sides, and is continually being told how great she is? Again, this is just my opinion.
  5. Scream Queen Maria was in full throat during her loss to Dominika Cibulkova. Yeah I know that’s her “thing”, but it’s telling that her scream (I refuse to call it a grunt) gets louder, and potentially more distracting to her opponent, when she’s losing. Gamesmanship, thy name is Maria. (Note: Screaming louder when you’re behind doesn’t mean you’re raising your intensity. It just means you’re screaming louder.)
  6. Rafa received a coaching warning and two time violations in his match against Kei. After the match, he seemed to have a few words with the chair umpire, Eva Asderaki, during the post-match handshake. He shouldn’t have been surprised to receive any of these warnings/violations. The coaching issue has been talked about before, and the new(ish) ATP/ITF time rules are being enforced because of his post-point pokeyness. Also, if Eva can handle Serena “If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way because you’re out of control” Williams, she can certainly handle his shenanigans.
  7. Genie Bouchard is having the Slam of her life in Melbourne, and looks to be enjoying every second of it. But I still can’t get over watching her leaving court after one of her matches and getting hit “upside her head” with a stuffed kangaroo. After a startled moment, she picked it up and carried it with her to the ESPN interview desk. Still, it was a weird moment of “Where’s security?”
  8. Chair umpire Gerry Armstrong really mucked things up the other day in the Tomas Berdych-Kevin Anderson match. Tomas Berdych hit two service winners with completely incongruous results. The first was called out, but later shown to be in. And though Kevin got the serve back in play, Armstrong gave the point to Tomas. A second service winner was also incorrectly called out, and later shown to be in. This time, Kevin did NOT get the ball back into play. Armstrong ruled first serve for Berdych, who was a little miffed that he didn’t get the point outright again. Frankly, I think Armstrong erred badly. He should never have given Tomas the first point on a returned ball, and should have given him the second one on a non-returned ball. Any chair umpires out there want to take me on about this? Feel free.
  9. Sometimes, the press likes to unfairly stir up the “catty” aspect of female athletics. Last year’s Sloane-Serena angst in the press was a prime example. And never content to let sleeping dogs lay, the press tried to create more drama this year by implying that Sloane cheered when Serena lost to Ana Ivanovic. Having suffered through months of bad press last year, Sloane explained it away easily and expressed dismay that people would try to make something out of nothing. Having just watched The Price of Gold, the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding documentary that ushered in the era of journalistic reporting for female athlete cattiness, I would agree.
  10. God bless Jim Courier and Renee Stubbs for their on-court post-match interviews, but can I get a show of hands from anyone else who agrees that these have been some of the most awkward encounters we’ve experienced in years? (Standouts include Courier’s questioning of Djokovic about the absence of his fiancée, and Stubbs questioning of Bouchard about her age.)
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